Faith SandlerCommunity, Words of Faith

But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Amos 5:24

In the five years since launching Words of Faith, I don’t believe I’ve ever opened a post with a passage from any book of any scripture or sacred text. But for this story of the way community forms, there is no better opening than the prophet Amos.

James Joshua Romeis died suddenly in August, 2009 at the age of 39 while hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. When his parents, Dana and Jim Romeis, left my office about a year later, I longed to offer them some meaning or balance to their unfathomable loss. Charitable gifts made in Josh’s memory had accumulated in a fund for which they sought suitable purpose and permanent home. They described to me how Josh had recently completed a Ph.D. and was beginning postdoctoral work in Arkansas. He had found his calling in science, in the study of water, and in work in communities adversely affected by contaminated waters that flow in impoverished areas.

Ethan Shavers was the very first James Joshua Romeis Designated Scholar. Ethan had been out of school for a few years, working in construction and in operations for the Black Repertory Theater. Ethan first applied to the Foundation in 2010 when he was 31 years old (to read his story click here). He has since earned his B.S. in geology and his Ph.D. in environmental science and GIS. Dr. Shavers is now Section Chief/Supervisory Geographer with U.S. Geologic Survey, a role that includes the highly complex mapping of the world’s watersheds as they are in constant motion.

Dana and Jim Romeis joined the community of supporters contributing to The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis in 2010. Dana Romeis was elected to The Scholarship Foundation board of directors in 2014, serving on a number of committees during her tenure, including program and external relations. Dana’s board service was marked by her ability to connect community-minded friends to the work of the organization and her keen eye for design. She appreciated each opportunity to meet young people, marveling at their gifts and talents. Dana is a creative thinker and an active learner. Jim Romeis died in April, 2021.

Friends and colleagues remembered Jim Romeis with a flood of generous memorial contributions to The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis. Among them were gifts from Robert (Bob) Brunk, a longtime friend of Dana and Jim since they met living in North Carolina decades ago. Bob still lives in Asheville, retired from a successful auction house he founded specializing in art and antiques.

Last Thanksgiving, Dana travelled to points southeast seeking salve for the sadness of the holiday without Jim or Josh. She took along information on the work of The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis to her visit with Bob Brunk, in gratitude for his generous gifts.

Bob, Dana, and I met by Zoom and email between Thanksgiving weekend and January 6, 2022 when insurrectionists rioted over election results, invading the U.S. Capitol. In his earlier years, Bob was a community organizer, working to help tenants in public housing create a successful rent strike, seeking changes in deplorable living conditions, and asserting their legal rights. Bob expressed grave concern for democracy and wondered about a way to encourage young leaders to strengthen electoral process and engage their communities in securing the power and privilege of the vote.

By May, 2022, thanks to generosity of thought and resources from Bob Brunk, The Scholarship Foundation announced a new Voter Engagement Internship in partnership with Action St. Louis. Two interns will spend the summer with Scholarship Foundation Advocacy Director Karina Arango and BOSS (Black Organizing Summer School), a program of Action St. Louis designed to train community organizers. Voter registration and education will boost representation and participation in elections.

Earlier this month, these points of relationship and commitments to building community converged. On June 7, Dana Romeis was celebrated for her four terms (eight years) of service on the board of directors of The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis. Though she leaves the board, she remains closely connected. Less than a week later, the first two Voter Engagement Interns were announced on June 13 and began training on June 14.

Kayla Sullivan is a second-year doctoral candidate at Washington University in St. Louis. She is studying African American Literature and pursuing a certificate in higher education. Kayla’s B.A. is from DePauw University. In applying for the internship, she wrote: As an African American, my race has been historically subjected to voter injustice, and being able to inform my own community about voting practices so that they learn about how to take action and subsequently create change is significant work to me. This form of community work assists in combating historically oppressive systems and practices associated with voting.

Asia Parson graduated with a B.S. in psychology from Washington University-St. Louis and will attend graduate school this fall at Florida Institute of Technology. In applying for the internship, she wrote: In 2020 I was finally old enough to cast my vote in a presidential election. It was a great feeling of power, like my opinion mattered, like I could help make a difference. It was my first time voting even though I had been 18 for 2 years and could have voted in previous elections. I realized that my peers never talked about those elections or bothered going out. If I feel so great casting my ballot during the presidential election, why don’t I exercise my right to vote during other elections? I want people to understand the importance of their vote, regardless of what election it is. Everyone deserves a right to vote, and for their opinion to be heard.

Each entry in this simple story line is a bubbling up, a tributary joining a larger stream and finding a way around or through. There is no one source, no single direction or certain path. Yet to get to what Amos foretold, even the smallest stream is essential.

– Faith Sandler